Chapter 5: A Stranger in a Strange Land

New Folks on the Block

May 1,1957. The Vancouver of 1957 was a very different place – both from my hometown and from the Vancouver of today. It was a port town – rough, brash, good hearted, loud and diverse. And it wasn’t afraid of itself. It was a lusty wench in sailor’s garb.

It felt young, and with good reason. The industries were resource based – logging, mining and fishing. The people of British Columbia were living off the land, and there was plenty of work to be done. After the deprivation following World War Two, that work drew people from all over Europe to start a new life. My father was one of them.

For me, landing on these shores was a heady experience. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Scandinavians and everybody in between. It was a colourful crew – a ‘Heinz 57’ varieties society, to quote the ketchup label of the day.

The adjustment to this new environment wasn’t easy. There were new foods, new sports, new clothes, and a new language. The Welsh, English, Irish and Scots got off easy compared to the rest. All we had to do was mould our ‘old country’ accents to that slower, lazier Canadian drawl and learn to enunciate the Canadian ‘r.’ The others had to learn an entirely new language from the ground up. But we all had one thing in common – we were workers.

Everybody worked. The city had the energy of young blood and the drive of a people who understood that what had been impossible in the home place, was now within their grasp. And they weren’t about to let it slip through their fingers. There was an undercurrent of joy running through the town and no amount of adversity was going to crush it.

They came from everywhere                                                                            

The limeys

 The bohunks

 The dagos                                                                                                               

The polacks

The micks

Tough people taking on a new land

Doing whatever was necessary

Many without the language

 Many labeled by their accent

Marginalized by the privileged

Their gifts met with indifference

Tough people with big hearts

Who had already earned their place in the world                                                       

Who knew with the certainty of the righteous                                                    

That despite it all

They would prevail  


For kids this country was a big new playground. In the South Shields of my youth, play was limited to the hills and fields surrounding the town. Here, we had forests to explore, mountains to climb; rushing rivers, and ocean inlets. We spent our days in the bush, out on the log booms, fishing, launching rafts and riding our bicycles to hell and back. We were living the lives of Riley and we knew it.